Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Going Moderately Nuts

It's been said that one should strive for moderation in all things -- including moderation. Which means, I'm convinced, it is good for one to be moderately immoderate on occasion. That is, while I don't dive headlong into full-blown decadence, wading about in the sybaritic shallows can be a lot of fun.

My idea of decadence has modified somewhat over the years, anyway. I blame Sean Connery for that. He doesn't write. He doesn't send flowers. I have no choice but to adjust my focus on more easily attainable self-indulgences. Such as really wicked culinary temptations.

Like (Salivation Alert!) candied nuts.

Now, I've been making candied walnuts for years, from a recipe given to me by a friend way back in the seventies. Yeah. The olden days. Unfortunately, I lost the recipe and hadn't been able to find a decent replacement. Until -- oh, thank you, Lord and Google -- today.

This is absolutely the easiest -- and tastiest -- candied nut recipe I've ever tried. No cooking a syrup to softball stage. No oven baking. All the magic takes place in a skillet on top of the stove. And I only had to modify one teensy little thing. Let me tell you about it.

First of all, just about any kind of nut can be fixed this way. Heck, mix 'em up if you feel like it. You can do this with whole nuts or half-nuts or chopped nuts. What I used today happened to be pecan bits. I rarely buy the pecan halves, which cost more, because I almost always chop the durned thangs up anyhoo.

Before you do anything else, fix whatever surface you're going to use to cool the nuts. You can lightly butter a cookie sheet or lay out a sheet of parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. You'll be spreading the nuts out in a single layer over the entire surface. And they'll be very HOT so judge your cooling surface accordingly. (Wax paper -- not a good idea.)

So okay. Put a non-stick skillet on medium heat and melt 2 tablespoons of butter in it. As soon as the butter is melted, toss in 1/2 cup of sugar and 1 tablespoon of kosher salt. That is not a typo. The original recipe calls for a mere quarter-teaspoon of salt but what I'm going for here is what I had with my lost recipe -- what I call the Kettle Korn Effect.

For those who have never had the good fortune to experience Kettle Korn (or Corn), it's simply popcorn that's been popped in a mixture of oil, sugar and salt, resulting in a lighter coating than caramel corn --but oh my stars and garters, the flavor. That's why we need a whole tablespoon of salt -- so we can obtain the precise salty-sweet taste that is utterly and unequivically addictive. And there is no cure so you might as well learn how to do it your own self. Otherwise, you're liable find yourself exploring dangerous neighborhoods, looking for a dealer to supply your next fix.

Now. Where were we? Oh yeah -- you've melted the butter and added the salt and sugar. Now dump 2 cups of nuts on top of everything else and begin stirring with a wooden spoon. You don't have to stir constantly right off the git-go but you want to move everything around enough that all the nuts get well-coated. To start with, you'll see a lot of sugar granules clumping around in there but before long the sugar begins to melt and will start turning a liquidy, gorgeous deep brown. Stir steadily now and watch it closely. You don't want to scorch anything. When the sugar is well-caramelized, remove the pan from the heat and add 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract. It will sizzle and fizz but don't be alarmed -- it's just excited. Stir vigorously and inhale deeply.

Turn the nuts out onto your prepared surface and spread and separate them as much as possible while they're still hot. Let them cool for roughly half and hour and then finish separating them by mooshing them about in your hands. The nice thing about this is that you get to lick your hands before you wash them.

What? Of course you want to lick them. It would be depraved to waste that good flavor in soap and water. Of course, that's easy for me to say. Nobody is here to catch me at it except Ralph and I don't see how he could disapprove when you consider what he licks.

What's next? Well, you put all those incredibobble nuts in an air-tight container or a sealable plastic bag and put them in the refrigerator until you're ready to use them.

Okay. You store what's left after you sample enough to be sure your high standards of culinary wickedness have been met.

How will you use them? Let me count the ways. Besides the fine art of munching indiscriminately, try throwing a handful in your next tossed salad. Bliss. I am seriously considering multiple batches of this stuff for Christmas pressies. Hell, it might even entice Sean Connery. In the meantime, as a topping on ice cream or cakes or pies, candied nuts are hard to beat. In fact, the main reason I made this batch was so I'd have some to sprinkle on top of a banana cream pie.

Yes. And I'll tell you about that tomorrow. Any more decadence tonight would simply not be -- uhmm -- moderate.


John Bailey said...

Elegant in its simplicity, Dee. Sounds scrumptious.

~ Sil in Corea said...

Yum! Now I have to clear my counter so I can spread out the greased cookie sheet on a flat surface. Either that, or balance it teetering on top of my condiment jars. ;-) Humm, maybe, will it cool faster when balanced up in the air?

Wendy said...

Oh my. Oh my!

Dee, as for using batches of these as holiday gifts, how critical is the refrigeration?

Bonnie said...

I have some experience with 2 tbsp salt, but unfortunately it doesn't work in a white sauce too well. :-)

Got early voting up there?

Jo said...

Dee, as soon as you said candied nuts my mouth started watering. I love nuts as it is and then to add sugar to them. Oh, dear.

Dee said...

Good morning, New-Home-Owner-John! And yes, scrumptious is the bottom line.

Sil, I'm grinning as I visualize you achieving balance for the high-wire cookie sheet by eating strategically placed nuts ... until they're gone.

Wendy, as long as the nuts are reasonably fresh, I wouldn't worry about it. I doubt they'd turn rancid any time soon, even with the coating. Mailing shouldn't be any problem at all. Nor is it all that long before the holidays. (sigh)

Bonnie, you're right. The Kettle Korn Effect was never meant for white sauce. (grin) We have mail-in voting here. I love it.

Jo, that's why I put in the Salivation Alert -- so you could grab a bib. We can't be drooling onto our keyboards.

kate et jim said...

Oh this sounds wonderful, Dee! I just read the post to Jim. I think he's hinting that I make these immediately!

Laughed and laughed about the line - "Nobody is here to catch me at it except Ralph and I don't see how he could disapprove when you consider what he licks."

Maggie said...

And.......on top of getting wider, the holidays are up coming and you can help others get wider by gifting them with these simply magnificant goodies.......sans salt for me. Darn it. LOL

Dee said...

Kate, as much as we love our canine and feline furkids, we have to note their cultural mores are way different than ours. Wonder if that would be true if we were as flexible as they are?

Maggie, darn! Is there a salt substitute you could use?

kate et jim said...